Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

Tag: Inspiration

WHATEVER THE NEXT STAGE

the Late Quartets
meaning, always, Beethoven
always attended most intensely
late at night
alone

something here liberated from audience
or sound itself
or even emotion or intellect, solely
some pure essence
released within four players’ labor

~*~

the labor has me thinking
of Stephen Foster, his two strands of work
the minstrel songs that provided
his income and reputation
but his parlor art songs from his depth

yes, I’m far more compartmentalized

journalism, poetry, fiction, religion, et al

~*~

imagining my own funeral
a performance of Schubert’s string quintet
or a hymn-sing
if not my Quaker silence with vocal
messages therein
whatever the next stage

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
To see the full set, click here.

LEVIATHAN, AS AN EMBLEM

1

now to see
North Atlantic
in my sphere

landlocked
till twenty-eight

that week, camping tide-to-tide
beside North Pacific

and you speak of turning to Christ?

2

who found the eagle in the desert canyon
and high mountains
before the Upper Mississippi
or Great Falls of the Potomac?

still, moose fail to inspire me
as elk did

3

whales, then
rather than moose
in contrast to elk of the Yakima Valley

this mirror of historic economy

besides, moose and whales do not leave tracks
everywhere we trek here,
unlike the elk out west

to say nothing of ticks

4

water, defining land
defining water
and the overlap

I want to know what the ocean voices
in its repetition
addressing the absent moon
or distance, even in the erasure

bank of fog
curtain of resounding
fog horn or bell

or vast silence
before

the hundred thousand variations of nor’easter
just off this point

no need to circle the planet

we have our fill of floundering
agents of change

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
To see the full set of seacoast poems,
click here.

TRAPPED IN THE SCHEDULING

Thinking, too, of Bill Taber’s observation that Quakerism is filled with “strong women and tender men.” Think that describes us?

Which reminds me of a story Sondra Cronk was telling at Tract Association; she was back stateside between semesters at Woodbrooke (the English Pendle Hill center). Friends Meetings there (so she said) are in a very decrepit and lowly state, although as thee may imagine, some of the most powerful worship occurs in the very small Meetings that appear physically most ghostly. In any case, at one of the Quarterly or Yearly Meeting sessions, someone raised the question of whether we were letting the scheduling get in the way of Divine Leading – that is, whether our sessions are too busy to allow the Lord to do His work. Without seeing the irony that followed, the clerk replied: “I don’t see how we can possibly discuss that before 1988!” To which he was challenged: “We can’t wait that long!” “Well, then, maybe we can work it in later in 1986.” No wonder I’m so frustrated with committees! What I’m realizing is that in responding to the call not to serve on committees, I’ve been liberated to perform much needed intervisitation, as the Lord leads me. If I were to do this as part of a committee – and I may still have notes from the gatherings Ohio Yearly Meeting extended when the Lake Erie Association of Friends was not yet a YM – there would be so much effort involved in simply getting everyone together, establishing schedules, packing lunches, carpooling, and writing and duplicating reports, that the visitation would never get off the ground. Well, a committee of two, perhaps: thee and me, or Charles and me. Or even three or four in close combinations such as thee, Charles, Paula, and me. Which seems to be how early Friends did it! How enlightening!

~*~

For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.

A FEW MORE NOTES IN THE SCORE

The mind dances here and there, rarely in a linear fashion. So what’s on my mind these days? How about counting on these fingers?

~*~

  1. Even before she argues I’m regressing to adolescence, she has many reasons to ask: Am I still emotionally … 15? Maybe this time I’ll get it right. Or just FINALLY.
  2. How is it so many people see me as masked, restrained, even inhibited? All these years. Will the real me please stand up?
  3. Like a pack of cards, “shuffle the deck,” the way of the Red Barn – or my all too rambling life with all of its competing interests! Don’t we need a job or children as focus? Or God?
  4. A jazz guitarist asks me between sets, “Are you a musician? You listen like one.” I take it as a compliment. As for my choir?
  5. Too easily I find myself retreating for too much of the day (and night) in my attic studio, apart from the rest of the house. Call me a third-floor hermit. That’s where I think I write best.
  6. I’d dreamed of having Molly Ringwald join in a movie I’d scripted: 61 Candles. We’d all grown up. Or something like that. Even I was younger then.
  7. It’s a familiar goal in revising a piece of writing and, as I’m finding, in making music. Think of the visual arts, too, and any number of places in daily life. Gain lightness in what had been blocks of density.
  8. Inscribed on the tower: “Maybe he was the love of my life … but I wasn’t his.” (Which interpretation do you prefer?)
  9. How is it I got so old? Even within an old soul?
  10. My overcoat, still tinged with city grime, needs cleaning.

~*~

This is it, indeed.

This is it, indeed.

SCRIBBLING OF THE UNIVERSE, IN A PERSONAL SENSE

In my novel Promise, especially, Jaya aspires to a form of literary creativity that’s not exactly poetry and not exactly prose as we know it, either. It’s part of her spiritual practice, arising in yoga, and reflects her intimate relationships with her husband and friends as well as their place in their sequence of landscapes.

In the years since publishing that novel and its sequels, Peel (as in apple) and St. Helens in the Mix, I’ve encountered something close to what she may have envisioned – the Gift Letters or Gift Songs of the American Shakers, a marvelous elixir of messages channeled from earlier leaders of the religious sect that the medium embellished with drawings and often an alien languageand alphabet. The handdrawn pages I’ve seen in art museums and online are arrestingly innocent in their purity and intent, meant to be given to a friend as encouragement and comfort, heart-to-heart, with the giver as the intermediary connecting past, present, and future. In each page, hope rings with sunlight and gentleness.

In these weekly Personal Journey entries on the Red Barn, I’ve begun presenting excerpts from a related book, Kokopelli’s Hornpipe. Like the three novels based on Jaya and her legacy, this volume has its root in the desert interior of the Pacific Northwest, this time examined with a more mythopoetical focus through the legendary character known as Kokopelli.

Like Jaya’s desire to express her deepest experiences in an entirely original art form, Kokopelli tries to elude classification. Is it fiction? I call it a novel, even if it’s only novella length. And I’d argue it’s more complex than a novella allows. Are its chapters essentially essays or memoir? The fictional characters must be taken into account as well as the underlying mythologies. I could point to some of Barry Holstun Lopez’ wondrous works and ask the same. Add to that the questions of identity, especially as a place assumes importance, even before we get to New Zion or New Jerusalem, so crucial in the American experience.

At the heart of all this is the basic matter of just who we love, and why. The matter of just where we are in the universe.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.

Three sections from MOTET I

1

pick a language . a religion . a star, somewhere

of what I’ve distrusted
and yet seek

in the night of spring greening
where birds begin arguing (the males, as usual

but listen

good questions
guide better
than many answers

let me relate notations
of elk found on mountains
behind mountains – beside mountains, too
where streams run fast and clear
in everlasting rapture

before they appeared to me in their flesh
before I had children
before you appeared
but now

we’ll argue theology over lunch or dinner
or the menu

but first, grace

2

all this is not the same
as sitting by yourself

not the same as watching
anything

or listening to anything
or tasting anything

you can touch

since you asked, I’ll tell
you everything I know

if you tell me
where you’d like to start

3

to be completely honest
is so simple
you would think

until facing others
until facing yourself

all the temptations
all the screw-ups

all the aspirations
all the ruins to your back

all the idealized masks and labels
you wear
the childhood you’ve never left
all the flattery and self-delusions
all the false accusations you can’t quite shake

all the flaking paint on the siding of your house
all the cracking plaster within

as you age, all the lost years
you deny
all the shortcuts

so much of what your mirror
never reveals

no matter what you say
no matter what they say

the sins of omission
as well as commission

all the skills of a Philadelphia lawyer
all the skills of public office
all the skills of executive decision

any or all

the impossibility of saying exactly who you are
or why

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
To see the full set, click here.

OR THAT?

Being mindful of what’s right in front of us can always be a challenge. Here are 10 new items from my end.

~*~

  1. I haven’t said anything about shoveling snow, have I?
  2. One tension in today’s world is a matter of staying in place in a restless world. Sinking roots, as it were. Going deep. Without getting stuck. How is this rooting balanced with personal growth and evolution? And, too, how is it I’ve stayed Quaker, amid all the other self-identities in play?
  3. Am continuing my practice of learning Spanish before breakfast – along with our Cuban-roast coffee.
  4. A friend shows us the mass of stonework in the cellar of his 1755 New England saltbox house, and we recognize it’s a thermal mass that holds heat in winter, keeps the place cooler in summer. Those old Yankees were way ahead of our times.
  5. So the day starts clear, then clouds over. Snow on the way? Gotta check our weather vane, see if the wind’s coming in off the ocean.
  6. Observing two side-by-side icicles hanging over our second-floor windows, I see one’s bumpy while the one next to it’s smooth. Then realized, yes, water drops freeze as bumps, and thus the smooth one becomes the question.
  7. As Boss would have told Bill in Big Inca: “I told you to report EVERYTHING.” Maybe there are limits.
  8. Listening to piano music by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, keep hearing a riff that sounds like “Skip to the Lou,” itself a puzzling phrase. Turns out it’s Scottish for “love,” and the tune accompanied a circle game. Also, Gottschalk was quoting a slightly different and more wistful tune from New Orleans, which explains the notes that move sidewise.
  9. The Libertarian Party really blew its big opportunity. Royally. Now where does it turn?
  10. Perhaps tomorrow will be a bathrobe day. Or at least sweats. No driving, just stay indoors at home. Plenty to do here, anyway.

~*~

Joe Pye in ice -- what had flowered does so once again in the heart of winter.

Joe Pye in ice — what had flowered does so once again in the heart of winter.

 

MAPPING MORE THAN GEOGRAPHY

I had no knowledge of the streams of quiet rebels who experience divinity directly, thanks, in part, to the map of their heritage as they work with the soil and their own bodies. These days, they resist as best they can the manufactured desires beaming from satellites or television airwaves, even while they watch many of their children succumb to these temptations. They could tell us about Elijah or Jeremiah, the Babylonian captivity, or the Maccabees’ war of independence, in addition to my own ancestors’ sufferings recorded in The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians or Joseph Besse’s A Collection of the Sufferings of the People Called Quakers, for the Testimony of a Good Conscience. When, at last, I reclaim this legacy, piecemeal, I ask, “So whose story are you telling, anyhow? Which grandparents are yours?” Opening their maps, I follow their footsteps, even in a strange land. Well made cartography includes supplications and blessings, as well as warnings.

My own homeland once included many woodlands well into my grandfather’s childhood. A balance of forest, with its firewood and construction timber, and farm fields and pastures. So much so, in fact, that people could travel dozens of miles on roads that never left forest between cities. By my own childhood, however, most of the trees had been leveled, and even the woodlot on an uncle’s farm doubled as pasture for hogs and cattle. In winter, the countryside was a stubble wasteland.

Similarly, a prairie denuded of buffalo is impoverished. How much poorer is a suburban lot occupied by restless greed? Here I am, dwelling in desert I consider healthier and more vibrant than the construction I see overrunning the lands around cities and towns. “Rebuild at the core,” I urge the wind. “Repent!” Turn about! Bring back the buffalo and the buffalo nickel, as well as amicable urban neighborhoods. There are all kinds of communities, and humans are only part of the equation. There is land, there is sky, there is water and flowing. To say nothing of what exists beneath them.

A person who comprehends maps will appreciate history as well. Perhaps even musical scores, as another kind of map with a dimension of time.

I listen to my wife and learn of the mental maps many women carry. The ones of kitchens or gardens. Others leading to childbirth and parenting, or even away.

I, meanwhile, come here for a taste of primeval wilderness — a hope to experience a timeless reality that holds humanity in a state of awe rather than arrogance. Just look to the mountains for salvation. Look as well to dreams, each one having one foot in your past and the other in your present.

Carried to an intelligence that daylight conceals, I sense that within many rapidly fading distinctions I’ve scorned are important markers; these ranged from where to harvest wild berries and their uses as food and medicine to my own ancestors’ hymns and religious teachings. To be creative means building on what’s come before, rather than entering a new universe. The path on the map goes from one place to another. Respect is essential — another way of honoring one’s fathers and mothers. There’s still time to cultivate individuality and character in the field. Sometimes, even where homogeneity is perceived, a people can differ as sharply among themselves as they do from others. Ponder Polish Catholics in Chicago, Congregationalists in Ohio’s once-Yankee Western Reserve, and fire-breathing Baptists and Pentecostals in Detroit and what they might do to enhance each other’s heritage, rather than striving for some common denominator. That’s another way of lifting up mountains, rather than leveling. Even on flat land, each body leaves a hidden stamp on its soil. Learn to read vibrations of an environment, and you identify communities dwelling therein, sometimes a century or two after their departure. Through the news and entertainment media, I grew up knowing more of Manhattan and Capitol Hill, though they were only incidentally closer geographically than Kansas City or Minneapolis, supposedly within my Midwestern realm. I knew more, too, of Hollywood back lots and Beverly Hills. Indeed, not until much later had I recognized the Midwest I’d considered so conservative and culturally backward was, at the beginning of the twentieth century, a hotbed of radical politics and organized labor. Many of its cities elected Socialist mayors only to replace them with Ku Klux Klan within the decade. Talk about upheaval! In the front parlors of homes in many small towns across the Plains, the latest wave of European high culture was performed; three of the nation’s oldest handful of symphony orchestras were organized (St. Louis, Chicago, Cincinnati). In the machine shops of isolated barns and backyard stables of small-town entrepreneurs, curious Midwestern farm boys tinkered perfecting the automobile and a thousand other industrial marvels. Kite-flying bicycle-building brothers put men in the air.

Much of this I did not understand or appreciate when dreaming only of escape. Only now did I come to see what remains of a once rich and varied heritage. In those days I looked off to the limits of a world; fixes like Boston and Seattle as strands of Utopia. What I encountered instead was a step beyond the anticipated. Of the neighborhoods I would come to call home, none quite fit what people expect of East Coast, Midwest, or Pacific Northwest, either.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.

FINGERINGS

many classical musicians regard a score
more through their hands (as instrumentalists)
or the eye, according to the sheet (as composers)
or even the mouth (as singers)
than through the ear, much less the heart.

in that light, Beethoven’s mastery in deafness
should appear no miracle

unlike Charles Ives, off-limits
when the circle needed completion
– without the ripple of applause or engagement
or critical test of application –
only the stone-dead silence of scorn or indifference

let us touch, then, releasing these birds
from rows of ink on a page
as if this were another spring morning

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
To see the full set, click here.

WITHIN A SHIFTING FOCUS

Envisioning a grouping of my poems under the umbrella of Exposure, I initially drew on the photographic sense of admitting light to a sensitized film or plate, and then watching the image take form and density in stages on white paper in the developing bath in the darkroom – admittedly, now, obsolete practices, supplanted by the much less technically demanding use of digital cameras. (With all of its own advance technical dimensions.)

The title survived even though the contents kept shifting until settling on what now appears in the middle section of my collected Ripples in a Bejeweled Prayer Flag.

At first, this was to be a set of micropoems – brief, flickering revelations akin to snapshots – especially of the kind my Uncle John Orr calls “mockery photography.” Or, better yet, multiple exposures, with their overlapping actions. But those works scuttled elsewhere, where they’ve seemed to fit better.

In their place came Treated for Exposure, a grouping of pieces originating in wilderness encounters. In the backcountry, individuals who are caught unprepared in sharp downturns of the weather may require rescue and even hospitalization, where they are reported being “treated for exposure” – dehydration, hypothermia, frostbite, and the like. Again, those works drifted elsewhere, where they seemed to fit better.

What remained was a sequence of tenacious afterimages leading to a third route, though still not the final round.

Like most Americans today, my exposure to the outdoors, much less wilderness, has come in flashes – an hour or two, a day or even a week, typically chosen for fair conditions or else domestic tasks, such as weeding, mowing the grass, or shoveling snow. (As for “unfair” conditions, the lessons can be harsh and unforgettable, yet opening lessons of essential understanding – life is fragile, after all, and above all else, keep dry or get dry, quickly. I must wonder how many who have faced death in these situations return to the trail with a deepened sense of awe and respect, as well as caution.) Once again, in the end, the exposure is fleeting, caught in a flash of time and incomplete observation – something transformed or vanished in the flick of an eyelid. Even so, it is possible to approach these experiences as a pilgrim, acknowledging there is much to absorb here, as well as profound renewal and revival. A sense of humility helps, as well, for even skilled outdoorsmen find a wrong turn can become life-threatening. We come back to what is essential and timeless. In the rush of modern society, I require grounding and rooting, which these ageless places give back to me.

In a leap, this led to an exploration of something I thought I’d avoided – poems about poetry and poets. Generally, I’ve long had an aversion to art about art: movies about musicians or writers (or, worse yet, university English departments), and the closer they get to their own field, the more incestuous the practice commonly feels. Yet there are marvelous exceptions, leading me to question my original premise. Perhaps it arises in the newsroom dictum of getting as far out into the field as possible to get the best story: out on the street, where a council vote has impact, rather than in City Hall or the Mayor’s office, for instance, or out into the battlefront rather than safely ensconced in the Pentagon. (Admittedly, yes, after decades as a journalist, I have written that newsroom novel, my Hometown News.) Perhaps it is also a recognition and desire that writers speak to and with a larger audience or readership than other writers only. And it is definitely with an awareness that artists are not a special class of Genius, one needing apology or explanation or reverence as some type of Holy Order, at that. Ultimately, art is what we do, like prayer, regardless of the outcome or our reasons.

Like prayer, our practice embodies a host of assumptions and approaches: pages from a Book of Common Prayer, at one end, to the wordless Pentecostal outpouring of glossolalia, often called (erroneously) “praying in tongues,” at the other. It can give voice as communion, adoration, thanksgiving, confession, supplication, or intercession – and more, to say nothing of the range of our individual vocabulary, concepts, and situations. Such as sex.

In a leap, too, a dual awareness arises. The act of allowing the Other to expose its secrets to us – whether as a backcountry trail to a mountaintop, a lover, or the Divine – also demands that we also become vulnerable. We, too, are exposed, often unintentionally, in our strengths and weaknesses, our virtues and sins, our pride and shame. In this state of exposure, we are permitted to observe as long as we ourselves are being observed. The photographer enters the picture; the poet, no matter how carefully concealed, still enters the poem. The musician becomes the music. Truth demands honesty that can be painful and healing.

I think of my poems that arise from experiences while spending a week in a cabin in the Maine woods to twists in particular trails in Ohio, Indiana, Maryland, or Pennsylvania; the Florida Everglades; the Cascade Range of Washington state and northern California; or the Appalachian foothills of upstate New York or southern New Hampshire. Others, from family or lovers or friends and coworkers.

In the end, then, we, too, may be treated for exposure. Treated, but not tricked.

For the moment, let’s toy with the scarab – the beautiful jewel or the moving beetle. One, to my mind, will point to the other.

~*~

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.